Friday, March 31, 2006

If you're wondering what PSH and The Linney are doing right now

My brother just called from Buffalo. Hoffman and Linney pulled up next to him near Delaware Park while filming a scene for The Savages. Their car (weighed down by pedigree?) was mounted with a camera and being towed by a truck. The king and queen of the A-list (who, shockingly, have never worked together) must've been engaged in a talent-off. Who wins?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Assassination Thursday

Twenty-five years ago today, a "disturbed drifter" fired six shots at Ronald Reagan, all because of a little movie called Taxi Driver and its little star. This weekend, Jodie Foster will no doubt remain atop the box office, adding another blockbuster jewel in the crown of her career. And look -- it'll be Crash Day in Los Angeles on Tuesday, the anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination. (Hey, anything to sell the new director's cut DVD!) And happy birthday Warren Beatty, a maverick who knows something about contracting and enduring assassinations.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

I want these motherf*cking snakes off the motherf*cking plane!

The Internet is too powerful. Rabid interest in Snakes on a Plane has prompted producers to reshoot to get an R rating and add a curse-laden speech by Samuel L. Jackson that is "expected to take on cult status." The damn thing hasn't even come out -- let alone percolate for years in obscurity -- and already it's a cult fave? This is mass madness! Although, given the still at left, we might get to watch Kenan Thompson expire painfully by poison. So that's a bright spot.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Free association Friday

1. First things first. Inside Man is fun, even for someone who is generally nonplussed by Denzel. It's smartly written to a fault, has a bitchin' score by Terence Blanchard, and is infused with the snappy authority of Spike Lee, who actually paces the movie like a seductive slow dance. Imagine that: a heist movie with some grace and reserve. Plus, it appears its primary function is to give Jodie Foster a platform to be a gorgeous badass. Fine with me. Let's just say a great time was had by all -- "all" being me, and a theater full of greasy suburban oblivionites, but that's another story.

2. Speaking of former child stars, Quinn Cummings -- an Oscar nominee at 10 for The Goodbye Girl who subsequently quit the biz -- has her own blog. I read a couple sentences about her thinning hair, and probably won't return for seconds. I mention it just because it's funny; we're all online now, aren't we? I earnestly await

3. Tatum O'Neal...Peter Bogdanovich...The Last Picture Show...ah, Randy Quaid! The eldest, pudgiest Quaid is suing Oscarless James Schamus because he was duped into working for peanuts on Brokeback Mountain. Oh, the perils of stardom. The man with the $2 billion box office is upset about chump change. Let's forget Randy. Dennis, anyone?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?

This 1969 X-rated bildungsroman starring Playboy's playmate of the year (and featuring Joan Collins, Milton Berle and George Jessel as characters named Polyester Poontang, Goodtime Eddie Filth and The Presence) has the worst movie title ever, according to readers of The Chicago Tribune. I haven't seen Hieronymus Merkin -- it's strangely absent from the Netflix cache -- but it sounds like an apt name for what appears to be a John Waters progenitor. The Tribune's runners-up are equally verbose and esoteric, but no less fitting (like To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar).

For me, bad titling isn't about lengthy weirdness, but gross misrepresentation and a soul-sucking lack of creativity. There are plenty of movie titles worse than Hieronymus Merkin: It Could Happen to You (good movie, disastrous title), Crush (fine, if you mean "soul-crushing"), The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (features Zellweger and McConaughey, but how can a massacre "return"?), Swimfan (what the hell is a swimfan?), Honey, I Blew up the Kid (on second thought, this title is great).

You see what I mean? A title heralds the movie, and must be so judged. Can't Stop the Music might be a relentless crapfest, but the name is utterly perfect. And everyone in the blogosphere agrees about the next candidate for Best Movie Title Ever: Snakes on a Plane, starring Samuel L. Jackson battling...snakes on a plane.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wallace & vomit?

I sometimes find myself in Manhattan. I found myself there last January through May, interning for a prominent national entertainment weekly (how cryptic). I found myself there in October to see Elaine Stritch, Woody Allen and Sweeney Todd. And I found myself there this past weekend to see a bizarre trio of folks: Wallace Shawn, Phylicia Rashad and Cynthia Nixon. Let us ponder the shortest, squealiest of them.

Wallace Shawn. So I didn't actually see him, but Shawn and his brother Allen have finally produced The Music Teacher, a play-opera (plopera?) of theirs that's been shelved for decades, at the Minetta Lane Theatre in the Village. It's a blithering/fascinating trainwreck. Shawn is like a more specific Woody Allen: nebbish, monologue-ish, but focused purely on existential matters (whereas Woody broadens his nerves to romance and pop culture). Sometimes Shawn and Allen work together, and the result is good.

I recently watched Shawn's Vanya on 42nd Street, a pseudo-experimental bit of theatre-film (thilm?) that gave us Julianne Moore (can you believe she's just now readying her Broadway debut?). Vanya is a satisfactory experiment that halfway succeeds, and The Music Teacher is a satisfactory experiment that fully fails. Both are steered by the same narrative force -- a vastly preoccupied man vocalizing absurdist concerns about his place in the universe -- and both emerge half-baked, quasi-realized, etc. Now I'm starting to write like Shawn, so it's time to stop. I'm going to go play with my My Dinner with Andre action figures.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The call sheet for my worst nightmare

Celebrity reject Norm MacDonald. Bottom feeder Rob Schneider. Talentless Craig Kilborn. Sellout Jon Lovitz. Non-entity Tim Meadows. Adam Sandler, lord of diminishing returns. The omni-misused David Spade. And that guy, from The Movie That Shall Not Be Named (and his name is above the title?). I always refrain from judging until I've actually seen a movie, regardless of how bad it looks. But I will not refrain from judging this. I have seen the face of evil, and it is middle-aged and moronic.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Still mad as hell after 30 years

Everything Paddy Chayefsky wrote about in his screenplay for Network -- the all-powerful college of corporations, the devaluation of human life, the culture hungry to articulate its rage -- was true then, and is true now. People gush about the film's prescience and, in small ways, it was prescient.

But in the commentary and archive footage of the new two-disc special edition of Network, Lumet and Chayefsky (who both started in live TV) stress that the movie is "sheer reportage," not satire. Everything is dramatized fact. The only part of the movie that had not occurred in 1976 and has yet to occur is the coordinated assassination of a TV personality because of poor ratings.

The new DVD is long overdue. I devoured its special features (they are adequate) this past week. The driving force is Lumet, of course, one of our dearest directors and human beings. Thankfully, Faye Dunaway participated enthusiastically in the making-of documentary (which bothers to feature bit player Lance Henriksen but not Ned Beatty or Robert Duvall). And there's a ridiculous clip of Chayefsky on "Dinah!," which was apparently a talk show back then. How Dinah Shore had a career I'll never know, but the clip is worthwhile because it's proof of how the film was received upon its release: as a shocking and controversial "satire."

But Network, the greatest movie ever made, is much more than a stinging indictment of humanity's assault on itself. It is first and foremost a marvelous story told marvelously. The mechanics of Chayefsky's screenplay are breathtaking. It's like he's juggling a hundred balls, catching some with his feet and in the crook of his neck as he sends others even higher, until he's able to let them all drop at once into a neat, manicured square on the floor. If a screen story has never made love to you -- or if you don't even know what I mean by that -- consider submitting to Network.

I could devote this blog to examining the film's prescience, line by line and plot point by plot point, and never run out of material. I'll just offer this penultimate sermon by Howard Beale, the mad prophet of the airwaves, played by Peter Finch like he had only months to live (and he did):

At the bottom of all our terrified souls we know that democracy is a dying giant -- a sick, sick, dying, decaying political concept writhing in its final pain. I don't mean that the United States is finished as a world power. The United States is the richest, the most powerful, the most advanced country in the world, light years ahead of any country. And I don't mean the Communists are going to take over the world because the Communists are deader than we are. What is finished is the idea that this great country is dedicated to the freedom and flourishing of every individual in it. It's the individual that's finished. It's the single solitary human being that's finished. It's every single one of you out there that's finished. Because this is no longer a nation of independent individuals. It's a nation of 200-odd million transistorized, deodorized, whiter-than-white, steel-belted bodies -- totally unnecessary as human beings and as replaceable as piston rods. Well, the time has come to say "Is dehumanization such a bad word?" Whether it's good or bad, that's what is so. The whole world is becoming humanoid -- creatures that look human but aren't. The whole world, not just us. We're just the most advanced country, so we're getting there first. The whole world's people are becoming mass-produced, programmed, numbered, insensate things.
Speaks for itself, as it has for 30 years. And this is the calmest, subtlest speech in the film, which builds with such sheer confidence and sleekness toward its climax. I mentioned above that the climax -- the on-air assassination -- is the only thing that isn't based in fact. The last line of Lumet's audio commentary?

"But I think it's still to come. I wouldn't be surprised to see it. On one of the reality shows, it'll happen. There will be real death. And it will be shown to you, I promise you."

Friday, March 10, 2006

I know I said no more Oscars...

...but something set to be published tomorrow bothers me. [But first, to sum up: reaction to Brokeback's loss has been both blindly constructive and resoundingly destructive (and somewhat amusing). Pitiless tirades against (and defenses of) the Academy's choice have been issued by the literati, even by Los Angelites like Ken Turan and Steve Lopez.] But what do you think of Brokeback author Annie Proulx's bitter rant? I find it sad and disturbing that this writer's mood is fouled by a Hollywood fart.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Can a film composer sell out?

Or, If John Williams falls in the woods, is it underscored with strings?

Rolfe Kent's work first wormed its way into my aurality with About Schmidt (a superb score that sticks in the mental playlist to this day). But when I saw Wedding Crashers in August, I started to get suspicious. Seems Kent -- an Alexander Paynester, Brit, maverick composer and blogger -- maintains a duplicitous lifestyle, recycling the scores for his indie films into themes for fluffterpieces like Just Like Heaven and the Legally Blondes. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Everyone needs a paycheck.

Then I saw his name attached to Failure to Launch. A vanity project for SJP and McConaugheyheyhey? Co-starring Terry Bradshaw? Surely, I thought, Kent doesn't need the money that badly. Surely he has sunk to a career low (while perhaps attaining a career high, with the yet-to-be-heard Thank You for Smoking). But let's not judge the score by its film. Launch may not be a sellout for any of the filmmakers, given that it's being proclaimed "Wilderean," "one of the best American films in months and the best comedy since I don't know when." I mean, if this is anywhere near accurate, then the peon who composed the vacuous trailer should be sacked, and promptly.

That said, I'm waiting for the day when Jon Brion scores Bringing Down the House 2: Straight Trippin' Back in the 'Hood and Carter Burwell scores I've Grown Accustomed to This Weight, a My Fair Lady update focused on the bulimia plague affecting today's vulnerable stars, featuring Ashton Kutcher and The Lohan.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscars 06: We're all just tryin' to matter

This might be Oscar hangover talking. But maybe not.

I consumed the post-show coverage last night and this morning. I have indigestion. The bloggers have blogged. The TV critics have whined. The fashionistas have groveled at the hems of pocket-laden gowns. The press corps has lobbed softball questions at glowing, self-entitled frontrunners who deserve a good loogie in the face. The Oscars and its nominees have been stripped, throttled, pricked with pins of criticism and adulation, sent up, torn down, bushwhacked, massaged and fucked a thousand different ways for the past several months.

And lo, I am sick of it.

The reality settled in my gut like an intestinal canker when Crash won best picture. Unlike many people -- Nathaniel R. at The Film Experience, a blog that nigh ennobles blogging, seems to be on suicide watch -- I am not upset by this outcome. It is what it is. Here's what I get upset about: Crash wins and the cast and crew -- which seemed to comprise half the orchestra section -- erupts in an orgy of exhilirated hugs and oh-my-Gods. There was a particular shot that showed cameramen and their cords leaping over Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal to get to the Crash people, who were uncomfortably close to the Brokeback camp. Heath and Jake were clapping limply, stunned and expressionless, no doubt questioning the meaning of it all, exhausted by a six-month sprint to a photo finish that yielded, after excruciating scrutiny, a resounding outcome: they, and their film, are losers.

Everyone leaps to conclusions. Hollywood is still nervous about gay people. Hollywood is patently patronizing, and therefore goes for the fable of race relations set in good ol' LA. Hollywood is cowardly, solipsistic, incapable of making leaps of the imagination. The horror, the horror. But I think Brokeback's dominance of the awards season alone ruined its chances at the Oscars. Therein lies the problem. "Chances" should have nothing to do with it. And now everyone's talking about two good films like they are antithetical to each other.

I watch the ceremony because I love seeing the people who make the magic that defines my life. I will endure three and a half hours of woeful mediocrity for brief moments with Robert Altman, Meryl and Lily, Lauren Bacall (despite the TelePrompTer awkwardness) and, of course, Jack. They might've been the only real movie stars on stage last night. The attendees agreed with me; you could hear it in their energized, swelling applause, as if the Kodak Theatre awakened from an anesthetized state just for them.

Jon Stewart was a fine host. There were some great bits. They got Mel Gibson to lampoon his neo-weirdness in Mayan, for Pete's sake. There were some impressive speeches. Clooney, like Kathy Griffin and too few others, is a wonderful tonic in the dyspeptic arena of Hollywood gladhanding. There were some moving moments, like Itzhak Perlman's stunning arrangements of the nominated scores or when Altman made himself tear up. And the best picture nominees were all meaningful, "courageous" works.

Then why the post-show malaise, which happens every year to the best of us? Maybe it's because of the music they played under every speech, which compartmentalized and doctored what is supposed to be the most spontaneous part of the show. It made the proceedings feel rehearsed, rushed, formatted to fit your TV screen, polished to placate the censors and their innocent children who should be in bed anyway. Maybe it's because true star quality appears to be extinct. We must settle for the common rubble of celebrity, amongst which we can't tell the difference between the interviewer and the interviewed on the red carpet.

But mostly, it's because the Oscars have become about the bottom line. They are no more than a clever lede in a gasp-ridden news story, the final footnote in the tome-like epic of awards season, a virtual afterthought after so many statues have been flung at filmmakers. What matters is not the quality of film (because how can we really measure the equally qualified against each other?) but the articulation of trends, the invasive analysis of clothing and language, the smartly-timed magazine cover, the sound bite, the video clip, the redundant annual photo gallery of white-toothed smiles clutching gleaming golden boys, the fulfillment or denial of prophecies.

So it is with a light heart that I look forward to at least six months without talk of Oscar, even as we continue to writhe in its titanic wake for weeks to come. To the winners: make good movies. To the losers: make good movies. Golden hardware doesn't last. It flakes and tarnishes, is sometimes stolen or lost, eventually is bought via Sotheby's six months after you're dead. But use the ephemeral, fleeting power that it gives you now to get good movies made. Continue to make good movies. Make them not for the flashbulb or the renown. Make them for me, at least, and then both our survivals through another Oscar season will not have been in vain.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Oscars 06: The Day the Earth Stands Still

[Welcome to As Little as Possible's live-blogging, because clearly the Oscars aren't being covered enough. All times are EST.]

23:26... End transmission. What an awkward finish.

23:23... Holy f*ck. Crash pulls it off. I love Jack Nicholson. So much.

23:21... English as a second language be damned! Ang Lee is eloquent.

23:19... Tom Hanks appears to be swearing at Stewart.

23:14... Crash wins adapted screenplay. Wow, predictable as all get out. Crash: 2. Brokeback: 2. Haggis quotes Brecht. Haggis is nervous. Haggis is a hammer. Bobby gets the shaft.

23:12... So I get it now. It's the inverse. If the winners go too long with their speech, they stop playing the music.

23:10... McMurtry's wearing jeans! McMurtry's wearing jeans!

23:09... Dusty gives a shout-out to the losers. Good man. Great work, folks, great work.

23:00... Reese wins best actress. Gross. Ick, she's just like she was in the movie. This is the worst acceptance speech. Giddy giddy, blonde blonde, Tennessee Tennessee.

22:56... Brokeback: 1. Crash: 1. Capote: 1. Memoirs of a Geisha: 3.

22:47... PSH gets best actor. Of course. This would be a great speech, if not for the goddamn music that is trivializing him. Wait -- the music's gone! Hurrah!

22:43... Crash: 1. Brokeback: 1.

22:41... "Martin Scorsese: 0. Three 6 Mafia: 1." You can also add Eminem: 1.

22:39... As expected, the South African upset. I like this guy. Great speech. Wonderful.

22:31... I would give my right arm if someone would ask everyone to please hold their applause during the In Memoriam tribute. I can't stand this, because it turns this otherwise moving montage into a popularity contest for dead people. It's unseemly. When will this be rectified? When will a presenter just add "Please, hold your applause until the end"? Ugh.

22:28... Stewart is right. People should be more excited about accepting their Oscars.

22:24... Zowee! Two rap song winners in five years. The Oscar will be serious hardware for their grills. The censors appear to be very trigger happy with their buttons. Lay off, boys.

22:19... We're big on the stand-ins for the song performances. "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." This is a very weak song, nothing like "Lose Yourself." It would've sounded better if it was performed subtly, like in the movie.

22:10... OK, I am not a fan of Altman movies. I have deep respect for how he makes them, and how they work. But I do not enjoy them. But he does do very interesting commentary on all his movies' DVDs, and I respect the man, and he deserves this for his contribution. And they play him on with MASH music. A great reception, of course. "It's not over." Good for you, Bob. I hope Frances McDormand isn't sick. "Making a film is like making a sand castle on a beach." Beautiful, and he's tearing up. A wonderful speech, a great companion piece to Lumet's from last year.

22:04... Mary Louise and Lily! What did I say? Streep is great on these shows. This is the greatest introduction ever. This is utterly fantastic. I could watch these two vamp all night.

22:01... This week on The Hot & the Snubbed: Eric Bana.

22:00... Thank you, Jon Stewart. Lampoon those montages.

21:57... Gyllenhaal is not teleprompter savvy. Montage #4,443. Epics. Mary Poppins and King Kong together? And Ben-Hur? This is silly.

21:55... Well damn, here's Penelope Cruz in a hair commercial. And what's Ed Norton been up to? He's narrating Budweiser commercials.

21:51... They can't play anyone off because they start playing them off as soon as they get to the microphone!

21:50... Brokeback gets its first. And Perlman's amplified arrangement sounded great.

21:44... Salma Hayek, looking va-va-voomish in a lovely dress. At least she's not here with her English-language-deficient counterpart, Penelope Cruz. It's fantastic that Perlman is performing the original scores. Love those.

21:41... "Hit the timpani, kids! It's Sid Ganis!" Larry McMurtry appears distracted. Dame Judi is here! Hey. Ganis makes his case for the theater experience. Mickey Rooney gives that idea props with a lethargic head nod. And we're shooting in New Orleans. Super.

21:37... Another montage. So we've got film noir, Westerns, and now politically-charged films. Wait, is that Million Dollar Baby? The Day after Tomorrow? Something's Gotta Give? Those ain't socially conscious films, at least not measured against Gentlemen's Agreement and To Kill a Mockingbird and In the Heat of the Night. At least the whole pivots on Network.

21:32... Speed reunion? Bullock & Reeves, together again.

21:25... Bird York performs "In the Deep." Nice touch with the car on fire, boys. And a Thandie stand-in! Wait -- stand-ins for the whole cast! Yikes. Now this is tacky.

22:22... The penguin puppets? Really tacky. Morgan Freeman: "Let there be light!"

21:20... I saw Norman Corwin today. Good film. Deserved. "And I'd like to thank the Academy for sitting me next to George Clooney at the nominee luncheon." Smooth.

21:16... Wonderful campaign parody montage. Makes more sense than a film noir montage. Keira Knightley and God dust! "Judi Dench took my eye out in a bar fight." Great.

21:12... Lauren Bacall! For a film noir tribute. Huh. Well, cool. Hmm, she appears to be having difficulty with the speech. Eek.

21:06... Rachel Weisz wins best supporting actress, and still hasn't outgrown The Mummy, it seems, according to the announcer. Gak, this is boring, winners-wise. What happened to surprises?

21:04... "We have faces now" Sunset Boulevard allusion? Bad writing job there. Does anyone else see from that clip how nothing Keener's performance is? Frances is alive!

21:00... Great Russell Crowe fight joke. That's two shots at the former Gladiator boys.

20:57... Steve Carrell in eyelash extensions: great idea. Pineapple Bliss all around.

20:54... A biopics montage? OK. "Tina! Bring me the axe!" Somewhere, Faye Dunaway is cursing the fact that everyone is once again reminded of the real-life person who sent her career into the shitter.

20:50... Should the costumes be judged independently of the movie they appear in? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory sucked ass. Phew, good thing it lost.

20:47... Yeah for hand-drawn animation. This background music is killing me. It's the score to a homemade wedding video.

20:44... Six Shooter is a great short. And Martin McDonaugh is a fine playwright too -- I saw his play The Pillowman on Broadway last spring. Good stuff. Deserved.

20:42... Scientology joke. Always good. Baldwin joke. Always good. The Wilson brothers. Never good.

20:38... Great idea to play clips from best pic nominees right before commercial. Keeps the pace up for the show.

20:37... Dolly sounds good. And look! Lily Tomlin is in the audience! Probably for Altman.

20:33... Nick Park gets Oscar #4. And they're still playing that music under the winner's speech. This is atrocious, and ruining an otherwise invigorated ceremony.

20:27... "For the first time in Oscar history, an Academy Award will be presented by no one!" Great routine by Ben Stiller, including his ultra-dramatic reading of the nominee's names. Things are going well so far under Stewart's watch.

20:25... Tom Hanks on how not to give an acceptance speech. Pretty funny. But no need to play Hallmark music under the winners. Jesus.

20:19... George Clooney wins for supporting actor. I guess we had to get him to the podium somehow. BUT WHAT IS THAT MUSIC IN THE BACKGROUND? It's terrible. Are they kidding? Ugh. Clooney is giving a great speech, a wonderful speech, and they're backing it with Hallmark music? "I'm proud to be out of touch." Great line.

20:14... Great montage of Westerns, a genre that has been asking to be lampooned for its homosexual undertones for decades (or at least since Red River).

20:12... "Walk the Line. It was Ray with white people." Absolutely right. And Joaquin gave the glower he perfected from working with Russell Crowe, who gave Steve Martin a similar look in 2001 when Martin made a quip about his sexual conquests.

20:10... "Björk couldn't be here tonight. She was trying on her Oscar dress and Dick Cheney shot her." The perfect Cheney joke. Hopefully it won't be mentioned again.

20:06... First great line: "Ladies, gentlemen, Felicity..." and Catherine Keener appears to be busily checking for text messages.

20:05... Is Keira Knightley there with Drew Lachey?

20:03... This is the perfect introduction ever.

20:00... An interesting take on the sometimes redundant clip montage celebrating all of Hollywood.

19:56... Getting impatient for the show to start. This red carpet stuff is bunk. Billy Bush needs to be put in a small box and sent down the river.

19:07... Joan Rivers is interviewing Lauren Hutton on the TV Guide channel. They have the same voice.

19:01... Paul Giamatti says he's been mistaken for Rob Schneider. I can see it.

18:17... Why is Gary Busey on the red carpet!? And Isaac Mizrahi lobbies for a 24-hour Matt Dillon cable station, featuring all of his movies on a loop. This is the first smart thing Mizrahi has said.

17:33... The Oscar-nominated shorts are available to download through iTunes. There's still time to see them before the ceremony; worth the downloading fee of $1.99 each: Six Shooter, Cashback and Our Time Is Up.

17:06... E! develops a sense of humor and interviews the year's snubbed actors, including Matt Dillon's father who is unable to piss and Andy the Security Guard from Crash. How did they prepare for their roles? By sitting on the toilet and eating donuts, respectively.

16:50... On E!, Harry Hamlin is talking very eloquently about playing a gay character in Making Love in 1982 -- a quarter century before Brokeback rode into the Oscars -- and how the industry ostracized him and the cast and crew for it. (And who knew Hamlin got his start in reperatory theatre?) E! almost redeemed itself, but the next segment featured some blonde visiting a real-life gay cowboy couple and making fun of them. Ah well.

15:58... I'm turning off E!, where that reject with the Greek name from The View is helping to demonstrate the technique of walking down a red carpet. Jesus.

15:00... As E! babbles about lymph drainage (the latest in Oscar day beauty preparation, apparently), HBO is featuring Along Came Polly, which features soon-to-be golden boy Phil Seymour Hoffman. PSH -- as the down-and-out B-list actor with a terrible jumpshot and a penchant for sharting -- is the best part about the otherwise dismal Polly. In fact, he's the best part of a lot of dismal movies.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Oscars 06: Pool percentages

Last year, the majority of DZ Oscar Pool players picked the eventual winners in the top six categories. The pool is dead accurate almost every year in the big categories, except when a surprise comes (Marcia Gay Harden, The Pianist, etc.). So this year, it looks like the frontrunners can rest easy. Most notable observations from the top three vote-getters in the top six categories: Crash isn't as much of a threat as people think, supporting actor is the tightest race, Joaquin has a slight edge over Heath in pursuit of PSH, Keira Knightley has zero chance to win, and Felicity is the closest challenger to the frontrunner in the acting categories. Here are the percentages (don't let the periods trick you; they're for spacing purposes):


80% Brokeback Mountain.........32% George Clooney
14% Crash..........................24% Giamatti / Gyllenhaal
3% Capote..........................19% Matt Dillon


76% Ang Lee.......................53% Rachel Weisz
8% Clooney / Spielberg...........17% Catherine Keener
5% Bennett Miller..................14% Michelle Williams

BEST ACTOR.......................BEST ACTRESS

63% Philip Seymour Hoffman....59% Reese Witherspoon
17% Joaquin Phoenix.............29% Felicity Huffman
15% Heath Ledger................10% Judi Dench

Friday, March 03, 2006

Oscars 06: Prognostications

First, a disclaimer. I am the guy who picked Cheadle, Okonedo and Staunton to win last year. I don't bet safely and I frequently go straight for the underdogs, dark horses and no-shots-in-hell. Call it magical thinking. I just want an interesting, surprising ceremony -- which we haven't had since 2003, when Adrien Brody led a surprise charge for The Pianist (I did pick Brody, though, for the record). That was some good TV.

Last year, the frontrunners won. Sure, many deserved their awards, but it was an excruciatingly bland ceremony. By Oscar night last year, we already had a month and a half of Jamie Foxx, who seemed to be accepting one award or another in perpetuity. And then hey-ho'ing. Every single damn time. Boring.

But this year will be magical. It has to be.

I won't see all of the documentary features and short subjects until the weekend, so I'm abstaining from predictions in those categories. Buckle up. This is a long one:


Will win: King Kong
Should win: War of the Worlds

Kong is one long awe-fest, with sequence after sequence sopping with head-spinning (and sometimes nauseating) effects. We can lionize Andy Serkis -- patron saint of CGI critters -- all we want, but I'd vote for War of the Worlds for its comparative restraint, especially during the scene when the machines first start to unearth themselves. I can't believe restraint is factoring into this.


Will win: The Chronicles of Narnia
Should win: Um.


Will win:
King Kong
Should win: King Kong


Will win: King Kong
Should win: King Kong

I vacillated between Kong and Walk the Line, which could follow the footsteps of fellow music biopic Ray, which won this category last year for its smooth interweaving of songs into the film's natural soundtrack. But Kong is just loud, and volume usually wins here.

Of note: Sound mixer Kevin O'Connell logs his 18th nomination in 22 years, this time for his work on Memoirs of a Geisha. He is Oscar's biggest non-winner (besting Randy Newman's streak of 15 losses before he won in 2001).


Will win: Crash
Should win: Crash

This prize is usually reserved for the best picture, but -- oh look! Brokeback is not nominated here. The last time a best picture winner was not at least nominated for editing was Ordinary People in 1980. Curious. Crash is an editor's showcase, of course, though I'd give equal consideration to Munich, which is beautifully composed until the last five or six minutes.


Will win: "In the Deep," Crash
Should win: "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," Hustle & Flow

"A Love That Will Never Grow Old" from Brokeback Mountain was disqualified because it plays briefly in the background during a scene, but "Travelin' Thru" didn't play during Transamerica at all. A delightful country romp by Dolly Parton, it played over the end credits. That distinction is ridiculous. This category exists only to draw viewers to the telecast. Last year, Beyoncé was the attraction. This year, well, the Academy gets what it deserves: a series of no-names, plus Parton. Not a ratings whore among them.

It is somewhat encouraging that two of three nominees actually play a dramatic part in their movies. But, as I anticipated, Bird York's "In the Deep" kind of violates some rules. So the only eligible nominee, as far as I'm concerned, is "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." Either way, this category should be reformed or abolished, and quickly. If the Academy is so concerned about the telecast's length, here's one time-waster that can be booted.


Will win: Brokeback Mountain
Should win: Pride & Prejudice

This should be part of the Brokeback "sweep," which really isn't a sweep in my book.


Will win: Memoirs of a Geisha
Should win: Um.


Will win: Memoirs of a Geisha
Should win: Um.


Will win: Good Night, & Good Luck
Should win: Batman Begins

The American Society of Cinematographers awarded Dion Beebe for Memoirs of a Geisha on Monday. But ASC's winner has gone on to win the Oscar only six times in 19 years. It's that silly actors branch that does the swaying. They'll go for the obvious choice, as they've often done: the black-and-white cigarette-smokey grandeur of Good Night, and Good Luck.


Will win:
Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Should win: Um.

This will be animator Nick Park's fourth Oscar. Should be a balm for his beastly bad luck.


Will win: Tsotsi, South Africa
Should win: Um.

I've only seen Paradise Now, which is kicking up the requisite mini-furor, which was too late to ruin its chances. From its trailer, Tsotsi seems to be the feel-good, humanitarian choice. Ten bucks says Charlize Theron presents this category.


Will win: Crash
Should win: Syriana

Paul Haggis gets the Oscar he deserved last year for Million Dollar Baby.


Will win:
Brokeback Mountain
Should win: Munich

Say hello to the most awkward pair on the awards circuit: Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry.


Will win: Catherine Keener, Capote
Should win: Amy Adams, Junebug

No one fits the bill of a supporting actress winner better than Rachel Weisz. She's a babe, she's young, pregnant, foreign and has a fairly sizable role in her movie. But then there are non-babe brunettes who stun the crowd every now and then; Marisa Tomei and Marcia Gay Harden are the notables. So for me, it's Weisz (who fits the first mold) versus Catherine Keener (who fits the latter mold).

Adams gives the fullest, more engaging performance here -- partly because her role is written so completely, partly because she's got the talent and poise to match.

Keener's role is scandalously nonexistent. But this has been her year. Between The 40-Year-Old Virgin, The Ballad of Jack & Rose, The Interpreter and Capote, she's been in everyone's face. And people love her. And she already has a previous nomination. And this is historically a category of upsets. And Capote is up for best picture. Makes sense to me. There she is, below, with soon-to-be fellow winner Jake Gyllenhaal, in Lovely & Amazing.


Will win: Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain
Should win: Matt Dillon, Crash

Ooh, this one is hard. Thank God. Jake won the BAFTA, George won the Globe, Giamatti won the SAG, Hurt won kudos from both the L.A. and N.Y. critics. Which makes me want to pick Dillon, of course. So regardless of who wins, it's a surprise. I think that's great, and how it should be (and would be for every category if there were no pre-Oscar awards).

Mathematically, Giamatti has the edge, especially since he's developed an image as an Oscar-scorned actor; many SAG voters are also Oscar voters, and the actor's branch is far and away the biggest in the Academy. That oomph is bolstered by Giamatti's golden reputation with his peers. One problem: Cinderella Man has only one other nom. There is no momentum. And it's all about momentum.

If a voter wants to throw George a bone for his year of sterling work, it will surely be in this category. But how many people are concerned with making sure he doesn't go home empty-handed? I'd say a historic three nominations between two different movies is enough of a welcome.

Dillon has done a fair amount of pre-ceremony schmoozing, all under the humble guise of representing the entire cast. This is no doubt siphoning votes from Giamatti and Clooney. Folks are viewing his nomination as a career achievement, depsite the fact that he's in the middle of the pack, age-wise.

So dearest Jake is in the best position. His is one of three acting nominations for Brokeback, which has the most total noms and pre-Oscar awards of any movie. His very recent BAFTA win boosts his profile at just the right time. He comes from a Hollywood family (mother Naomi was nommed in 1989 for her Running on Empty screenplay, sister Maggie got awards buzz for Happy Endings). Also, his performance is a lead. Deserved? No. Inevitable? Yes.

Of note: Twenty-five-year-old Jake would be the youngest best supporting winner since 1980, the year he was born, when Ordinary People's 20-year-old Timothy Hutton won...for what was definitely a lead performance.


Will win: Felicity Huffman, Transamerica
Should win: Charlize Theron, North Country

Get ready for the most hysterical acceptance speech in Oscar history. I fully expect Huffman to heave, shriek and spin apart into sequins and bits of ribbon before she gets to thanking Harvey Weinsten (her producer, shrewd Oscarman himself, who mailed Transamerica screeners late in the game, keeping the movie fresh in voters' minds). I mean, Huffman's last six months have been an extreme manifestation of the Hollywood dream: the upset at the Emmys propelled her to a corresponding SAG win and a Golden Globe for Transamerica. Suddenly everyone knows her, loves her, she's getting offers and awards, she's on magazine covers, and she's over 40. Golly! This is the hottest hot streak ever.

While I'm not enthusiastic about this category, Huffman certainly deserves to win over Witherspoon, whose acclaim and ascension to frontrunner status is mystifying. If she wins, she'll be the first to get there solely on pep. Or is it spunk? Either way, I'm sick of her. It will be interesting to see how she handles this extreme let-down after months of hype and campaigning and Southern charm.

But everything has lined up for Felicity. This is her year, definitely, for everything. She is the whole of her movie, while Reese is a supportive second half to Joaquin. And the role is an actor's showboating dream: a woman playing a man playing a woman, with bits of comedy and drama and ample opportunity to knock our critical socks off.

Of note: This won't be the first time an actress has won for playing a man; Linda Hunt won in '83 for playing Billy Kwan in The Year of Living Dangerously.


Will win: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Should win: Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain

For the second year in a row, the winner will win because of his total transformation into an icon. Right, right -- acting is all about transformation, blah blah. But I'm weary of actors alchemizing into real people. I want characters, fiction, complete inventions that live and breathe on film and nowhere else. More succinctly, I want surprises. Whatever. If Hoffman's film wasn't also nominated for best picture, I might've predicted an upset. It would've been sublime to see Stathairn win. Phoenix, the only previous nominee, never had a chance, despite what people say. Mumbling duo Ledger and Howard cancel each other out.


Will win:
Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Should win: Ang Lee

It's taken 78 years for a non-white guy to win best director. That is quite a streak. But then again, only one guy has won both the Globe and the DGA Award and then lost the Oscar: Ang Lee, for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Gak!


Will win: Brokeback Mountain
Should win: Any of 'em

They are all good films, but I don't feel strongly about a single damn one of them. So I won't be pissed off if Crash "upsets," or if any other wild scenario happens. I guess that's good, right?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Oscars 06: Guts, Butts & Sluts*

Munich is the bloodiest best picture nominee of the year, with 107 instances of violent content. Good Night, and Good Luck is the smokiest, with 67 instances of tobacco use. Brokeback Mountain is the "sexiest," with 22 instances of sexual contact. Crash is the most profane, with 182 bad words.

So says The Family Media Guide, which conducted an entertaining dissection of the varied naughtiness of this year's best pic nominees. (Capote, which concerns the brutal murder of a family and a protracted march to the gallows, comes off comparatively G-rated.) Using the proportion of violence, sexual content, tobacco use and profanity in each of the best picture winners of the past five years, the Guide was able to come up with the statistical favorite for this year: Munich. Followed very closely by Crash.

Also, IMDb incorrectly inferred from this report that Crash is the most profane best picture nominee ever. Go ahead and rent Pulp Fiction, boys. Daddy says it's OK. Pulp has gotta be the naughtiest. What other nominee has prominently featured a vicious anal rape, an evisceration by samurai sword, a footlong syringe jammed into Uma Thurman's heart, and Sam Jackson at his bluest? And I'm pretty sure every character was smoking during those instances, too. The error has since been corrected as if it had never been made; behold the wonder of the WWW.

Speaking of cussing: Oscar viewers will hear the word "bitches" during the telecast -- not just once, but over and over, as if it's part of a refrain, reports Reuters.

*If memory serves, loose women don't factor into the best picture nominees, save for Munich, which briefly features a barfly assassin. I was just going for the bad*ss rhyme.

This is infinitely more constructive than feeding your accomplice into a woodchipper

PopWatch, Movie City News and JMR have been all over this, of course, but I feel the need to link for posterity. Please, cave to VW's genius marketing strategy and watch all three commercials. Peter "Fargo" Stormare seems to be channeling Dr. Evil, Nihilist #1 and both Frankenstein and his monster. Oh snap!

Tomorrow: Final Oscar picks, prognostications, invectives, etc.